Top 5 Supplements for enhancing sports performance.
This article elaborates on supplementation which enhances sports performance and not necessarily supplements which are used solely for body composition restructure (fat loss and muscle building). Sports performance in this case relates to optimal training intensity, improved recovery and reduced fatigue, where an athlete is able to maximize each session in the gym without feeling like they’ve hit a brick wall.
Narrowing an aisle of supplements down to only 5 wasn’t an easy task, but there certain supplements which have been tried and tested to prove worthy of your hard earned money.
1. WHEY PROTEIN: ISOLATE and HYDROLYSATE
Whey protein is used as a protein powder supplement to help an individual meet their daily protein requirements. Due to whey protein’s high bioavailability (+-104%), it’s absorbed and digested faster in the gastrointestinal tract than other forms of protein. This places whey as the ‘gold standard’ in terms of digestion and protein utilization over other sources of protein.
It’s best taken for breakfast (after a fasted state) or after a strenuous weight training session to maximize protein absorption and amino acid uptake to muscle tissue. The faster the supply of amino acids from protein intake, the faster the recovery process.
We get 3 different forms of whey protein, graded according to the quality (stage of processing) and rate of absorption.
All whey protein has a high bioavailability, but ‘isolate’ and ‘hydrolysate’ have the fasted digestion rate due to being more highly processed.
To summarize the 3 whey proteins:
Whey Protein Concentrate: The least processed form (35-80% protein by weight), usually standardized in sports supplementation as 80% protein by weight.
Whey Protein Isolate: At least 90% protein by weight (lower in lactose and therefore a better choice if someone is lactose intolerant).
Whey Protein Hydrolysate: Enzymatically treated to reduce particle size and enhance digestion (left with peptides and amino acids), the fasted digestion rate of all whey proteins.
2. CREATINE MONOHYDRATE
Creatine is a molecule that’s produced in the body which is involved in energy production in the form of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine aids cellular function through energy release in cells, something which has a high turnover in muscle cells.
By supplementing with creatine, we enhance the efficiency of energy release which improves power output and lean mass in athletes. Creatine supplementation has also been shown to have neuro-protective and cardio-protective benefits, which has resulted in extensive research into the topic of creatine, placing creatine amongst the most studied sports supplements of all time.
With so many forms of creatine on the market, the cheapest and most effective form is creatine monohydrate. (Why waste more money on other forms, when monohydrate is the most studied form?).
How to use creatine monohydrate:
A loading phase of 5-7 days, 20-25g daily (split into smaller dosages to enhance absorption)
A maintenance phase of 2.5-5g daily to maintain intra-cellular saturation of creatine at an optimal level.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid which is produced naturally in the body. It’s a building block to carnosine, a compound which buffers lactic acid in muscle cells.
Beta-alanine has been shown to enhance physical performance, muscular endurance and improve moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as sprinting. By helping to alleviate low drops in intra-muscular pH, we enhance recovery and muscle function, allowing us to perform more optimally.
Beta-alanine supplementation has an unwanted side effect of parethesia (a tingling and flushing sensation when taken at higher dosages, although completely harmless). Some users may enjoy the feeling, but for the majority, it can be an irritation, walking around like a ripe tomato.
Daily Dosages should be within the range of 2-5g (better taken in 1g dosages at several times during the day to alleviate parethesia).
Caffeine is a naturally occurring central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that’s found in cocoa, coffee, guarana, tea and yerba mate. It’s frequently added to energy drinks, fat burners and other weight loss aids to enhance fat loss and mental focus.
Caffeine acts by inhibiting adenosine attachment to receptors in the brain. The prevention of this action causes mental alertness and wakefulness as opposed to sedation and relaxation which occurs when adenosine attaches to these receptors.
Other notable effects of caffeine intake include strength benefits, euphoria and insomnia (in this case, ‘anti-sleep’). However the majority of these effects (with the exception of insomnia) are diminished when caffeine is used for extensive periods of time; causing an intolerance to even the highest dosages.
How much Caffeine is too much?
As caffeine intake is based on an individual’s tolerance, it’s best to start on a low dosage of 100mg per day and incrementally work your way up towards the upper limit over a period of time. The general guideline for adults is 4-6mg/kg bodyweight per day.
(Guidelines for children are a lot lower and are not within the scope of this article).
Example: A 70kg man could use between 280mg-420mg of caffeine daily without any concerns (please note that if you have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition (or high blood pressure/high cholesterol) it’s best to consult a medical professional before taking caffeine).
It’s important to take a one month break from caffeine every few months to improve tolerance and improve the overall benefit of caffeine for sports performance. The majority of people have become so reliant on caffeine, that the performance benefits are never seen.
Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid which has a supplementation benefit during periods of disease and physical trauma. It happens to be the most abundant amino acid which is ‘depleted’ rapidly during prolonged strenuous physical activity (such as weight lifting). A decrease in plasma glutamine levels has been associated with immune impairment as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.
Supplementation of glutamine may negate immune suppression to an extent which will improve overall sports performance. However the most notable benefit has been shown through decreasing ammonia levels (which may potentially improve performance in endurance athletes).
As with all sports supplementation, there’s a fine line between an optimal dose and a dosage which is ineffective. With glutamine supplementation, the optimal dosage hasn’t been determined but it’s safe to keep to within 5-20g daily. A surplus of glutamine increases the effect of leucine in skeletal muscle and prevents muscle breakdown which in beneficial in bodybuilding competitors to improve body composition. This effect enhances muscle recovery, which is why I’ve included glutamine as a supplement to improve sports performance. The efficiency and effectiveness of recovery has a strong correlation with improved training intensity.
Written by Owen Dunderdale RD(SA) and Online Coach
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Research analysis by Kamal Patel from examine.com, I used examine.com as my primary source of information when doing this write up. Thank you Kamal, for the detailed analysis of each and every supplement.
6. Gleeson M. Dosing and efficacy of glutamine supplementation in human exercise and sport training. J Nutr. (2008)
7. Lehmkuhl M, et al. The effects of 8 weeks of creatine monohydrate and glutamine supplementation on body composition and performance measures. J Strength Cond Res. (2003)
8. Hoffman J, et al. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2006)